Jazz ‘Hot’: The Rare 1938 Short Film With Jazz Legend Django Reinhardt

Here’s a remarkable short film of the great gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, violinist Stéphane Grappelli and their band the Quintette du Hot Club de France performing on a movie set in 1938. The film was hastily organized by the band’s British agent Lew Grade as a way to introduce the band’s unique style of guitar- and violin-based jazz to the British public before their first UK tour. As Michael Dregni writes in Gypsy Jazz: In Search of Django Reinhardt and the Soul of Gypsy Swing:

The Quintette was unknown to the British public, and there was no telling how their new music would resonate. So, Grade sought to educate his audience. He hired a movie crew to film a six-minute-plus promotional short entitled Jazz “Hot” to be shown in British theaters providing a lesson in jazz appreciation to warm up the crowds.

That would explain the didactic tone of the first two and a half minutes of the film, which plods along as a remedial lesson on the nature of jazz. It opens with an orchestra giving a note-for-note performance of Handel’s “Largo,” from the opera Xerxes, which the narrator then contrasts to the freedom of jazz improvisation.

But the film really comes alive when Django arrives on the screen and launches into a jazz arrangement of the popular French song “J’attendrai.” (The name means “I will wait,” and it’s a reworking of a 1933 Italian song, “Tornerai” or “You Will Return,” by Dino Olivieri and Nino Rastelli.) Although the sequences of Reinhardt and the band playing were obviously synchronized to a previously recorded track, Jazz “Hot” is the best surviving visual document of the legendary guitarist’s two-fingered fretting technique, which he developed after losing the use of most of his left hand in a fire. To learn more about Reinhardt and to watch a full-length documentary on his life, see our August 2012 post, “Django Reinhardt and the Inspiring Story Behind His Guitar Technique.”

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  • john jewell says:

    fantastic brilliant,how did he ever play them cords,very enjoyable to watch.

  • Alexov says:

    How would you like to be either of the other guitar players! Never playing a note that isn’t a strummed chord? I wonder if they ever felt superfluous? One of them would have been enough. But after reading this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quintette_du_Hot_Club_de_France I understand that Django was invited to join an existing group that included Stefan and a guitarist, and loyalty insisted on Django’s brother joining as well. Reinhardt certainly was one of the all-time greats.

  • Allyson Erick says:

    @ Alexov, On the other hand (no pun intended) Rheinhardt was unable to rum, since he didn’t have the use of all of the fingers on his left hand! Just shows you what ingenuity with a handicap can come up with!

  • Allyson Erick says:

    @ Alexov, On the other hand (no pun intended) Reinhardt was unable to strum, since he didn’t have the use of all of the fingers on his left hand! Just shows you what ingenuity with a handicap can come up with!

    • kungfumonk007 says:

      He did strum, he was able to make chords with the use of this thumb, two good fingers, and sometimes his dead fingers, he in fact did complicated chord solos. Check out improvisations 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, Parfum, and Echoes of Spain.

  • albertcooper says:

    Just Wonderful and makes me cry salty tears

  • Tim Phillips says:

    As a rhythm player in the Hot Club style (and not a soloist at all) for the most part there is great satisfaction in being in the engine room and providing all that power on which the soloist can ride. However the histories tell us that there was a fair old churn in the rhythm department; I cannot comment on what it is like to be doing all that stuff night after night but I suspect the rhythm players came in and out regularly and were interchangeable to a degree. I believe Django was a bit of a stickler as to which inversions to play so however great the music it must have become quite a chore.

  • Vanderlei Malta da Cunha says:

    Django plays every moment at my home! He’s always on with his amazing music…

    Stéphane is a great jazz violinist who will play forever too…

    Porto Alegre – Brazil’s South

  • Klaus Huckert says:

    There’s another short film (ca. 25 min) from Paul Paviot (1957-1958). The film is in french. It’s a lyrique and a little bit pathetique film but very good. I has written for personal reason german subtitles for this film.

    You find a copy of the film (in french) by youtube. Paintings of Django (exposition in Paris 2012/2013) are by Vimeo.

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